As we have outlined in our earlier posts, the are several important ingredients to achieving a high performing service desk. Location, team, equipment, processes, and training are all necessary and their best practices are detailed in the service desk structure page. All that is then required to achieve high performance is strong leadership. This includes not just the overall leader of the service desk but the broader management team. The leadership group will be a key determinant in whether we succeed or fail and it is imperative that we get all leadership positions filled with high quality hires. The leadership group will set the direction of the function, however even more critically they will be the major influence over the culture that is created across the Service Desk. It is this culture that will motivate and enable your staff to deliver exceptional service to their customers.
Exceptional service is based on a passion and caring that your staff represent in their interactions with your users. It is an emotional interaction supported by tools and skills that does not come from a checklist but rather from a culture. This culture must be a supportive and engaging environment where the employee receives the emotional deposit that they will then distribute to their customers as they interact. This will only occur in a supportive and engaging culture with customer focused goals that your service desk leaders build and reinforce every day.
So what are the leaders we are looking for? First and foremost, a Service Desk leader needs to have a genuine passion for quality and the delivery of great customer service. Being instinctively customer-centric, the Service Desk leader is able to develop a depth of insight into what their customers need and to translate this into operational delivery within both the desk and across the wider IT group. If a leader is not passionate about customer service, it will be evident to the team. Leaders must have the energy and desire to consistently, every day, to demonstrate their passion for service and convey this to their teams through the consistency of their actions. One of my golden rules is that ‘if it matters it always matters’. Teams do not respond well to inconsistency and you cannot build a strong culture if you are inconsistent. Leadership must be seen to hold true to these values even under challenging circumstances (e.g., if it is important to us to log every contact then it is always important, it isn’t acceptable to not log some on Monday morning because we are too busy).
In addition, given the typical composition of service desk staff is less experienced and less developed, the leader needs to have strong people skills, an ability to coach and have a genuine interest in developing others to achieve their full potential. A staff member who feels they are receiving the assistance and career development will be engaged. This is a primary concern of most service desk staff and must be met to attract and retain the best staff. Similarly, the Service Desk leader needs to be comfortable having difficult development conversations with staff members. As a high throughput, entry level employer it is fairly normal that performance conversations are more prevalent within the Service Desk than other areas of your IT department. The leaders should be skilled in executing these constructively. Indeed you may find that your Service Desk leaders need to be significantly more HR process aware than leaders in your wider group. This ability to coach will result in significantly improved performance of staff members during their service desk tenure. Professionally training your Service Desk leaders to be highly competent performance coaches is the most beneficial skill that you can provide to them
The Service Desk leader needs to frequently balance the requirements of customers, stakeholders, staff members and the wider IT organisation on both a transactional and strategic relationship level. At times, the leader will need to step in on a call and handle potentially a senior executive who is enduring a problematic service episode. Being skilled in customer interaction and principled negotiation can be invaluable in those situations. The ability to remain calm and yet supportive in a hostile situation is important. Often the corporate ‘top of the house’ reputation of the service desk can turn on a well-handled call where an executive goes over the line, is skillfully handled, and later the executive realizes their error and the positive support they received. Training in the skill of principled negotiation will give them greater confidence to manage difficult conversations with customers as well as suppliers and the wider IT organisation.
The Service Desk leader must understand the fundamentals of running a call centre. They should know how the call center and knowledge management technology works, how reporting is generated, what the metrics and analysis mean and what tools they have available to them real time to understand exactly what is happening across the call centre. This may seem an obvious statement, however it is surprising how often members of poor performing desks have a leadership group that do not understand the core dynamics of running a call centre. Leverage your vendors to share best practice that they have picked up from other clients using their toolsets and ensure that you are involved in reference groups. Interact regularly with other leading service desks to stay on top of industry best practice.
To complement the genuine passion for quality and customer service, the leader must be able to convey that passion to inspire others to want to achieve greatness. The Service Desk can be something of a factory, it can involve some repetitive and mundane work and because of this it is important that employee engagement is always a key area of focus for the leadership group. High quality, consistent and multi channel (including a suitable amount of face to face time) is essential to maintain the coherence of the group to your common purpose. Communication should be scheduled and managed and not left to chance or in response to events. Carefully planning, consistent and frequent leadership participation and execution is key to success. Even with the best communications messages get translated, edited and even missed as they are cascaded and so it is important that the most senior leaders in the Service Desk spend time directly with the agents. From experience, these are the best days I have ever had at work and the level of positive influence and motivation that you can exert by spending a few hours at the coal face is immeasurable. (You will almost certainly learn a few home truths about how leadership is actually perceived to be functioning as well!).
Finally, and very crucially, the ‘focus’ of leadership is a key determinant of the Service Desk culture, the right focus is on the overall performance and success of service desk. Great leaders will create an empowered environment in which their staff can succeed. They will be approachable where metrics and results are the basis for decisions and have a low PDI. They will have defined the vision and goals, jointly agreed what success looks like, built in the right level of control and review and then empowered their staff to get on and deliver great service. I espouse the idea that ‘Performance = Potential – Interference’ and the role of leadership in the Service Desk is should evolve (once the elements are in place) to manage away the multiple and varied forms of interference so that the staff can achieve their full potential.
I have always believed that people fundamentally want to do a good job, they want to gain pride and self esteem from having achieved something worthwhile and nobody really wakes up in the morning and feels excited about the prospect of going to do a ‘bad’ days work. Interference gets in the way, sometimes it can be the smallest of issues (I don’t like where I have to sit, my desktop is too slow, I got passed over for promotion) and sometimes it can be fundamentally more significant (I no longer believe in the values of the company, I have a skills gap that can’t be trained, I have other pressures in life that are currently more important than my work etc). A strong leader will coach and develop and correct and guide his or her team in such a way as to engage the employee and build that strong culture where every day the staff feel that emotional deposit and passion for customer service that will enable them to perform at their best.
When you add strong leaders with the skills we have outlined to the other key elements you will be able to build a service desk that will sustainably deliver outstanding customer service.
Best, Steve Wignall and Jim Ditmore
About Steve Wignall: Steve is an IT Service Management professional with significant experience of leading large scale global IT Service Management functions in the Financial Services industry. Steve has contributed to defining the global industry standards for Service Desk quality as a former member of the Service Desk Institute Standards Committee. Steve led his Service Desk to be the first team globally to achieve the prestigious Service Desk Institute 4 Star Quality Certification, achieving an unparalleled 100% rating in all assessment categories and is a former winner of the SDI UK Service Desk Team of the Year.